Land owners and gardeners across the district are “in a race against time” to survey trees for ash dieback before leaf drop.
DEFRA confirmed that the scale of the nationwide survey of trees so far is unprecedented and the results of these surveys suggest that the disease is edging closer to the district.
There are now 155 confirmed cases of Chalara fraxinus, otherwise known as ash dieback, in the UK. Ten of these cases are in Yorkshire and three locations are within a 20-mile radius of Harrogate.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have said that private foresters are best placed to provide early detection of tree diseased and should have been engaged by the government earlier.
CLA President Harry Cotterell said: “We are now asking for a culture change within DEFRA and the Forestry Commission so foresters are recognised as the best early detectors of tree pests and diseases.
“Foresters and landowners throughout the North are now in a race against time to check trees that have already dropped most of their leaves, making identification much harder.”
Chalara dieback is a serious disease of ash trees caused by a fungus which causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees and can lead to tree death.
A spokesperson for the Forestry Commission, Becci Turner, said: “Around 500 people have been monitoring the situation for the last two weeks. It is an ongoing problem and as much as can be done is being done.”
Robert Adams, warden at Quarry Moor Nature Reserve near Ripon, said: “Ash trees are the dominant tree at Quarry Moor – we have hundreds of them.
“We are very concerned as if the disease were to take hold it would be quite catastrophic.”
Elizabeth Balmforth, curator and acting head of site at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, said: “At present Harlow Carr has not been affected by ash dieback. Results on a recent survey of our 40 semi-mature and mature ash trees have not given any indication of the disease.
“The fungus has a limited period during the year when it is infectious, which is from June to October, and younger trees and saplings are most at risk. We will be keeping a very close eye on our specimens during this time. At present, leaf litter from our ash trees is being burnt to limit any potential spread from the disease.”
Spokesperson for RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Courtney Conroy, added: “Visiting Harlow Carr has not been affected in any way.”
The ash tree is native to the British Isles, and makes up around five per cent of woodland cover in the UK. Ash dieback has affected a high proportion of ash trees in northern Europe and was found in nursery stock in the UK as early as March.
Due to their size ash trees are not commonly found in private gardens.
Fiona Burks, manager of Brookside Nursery on Leeds Road, Harrogate said: “We have very little in the way of ash trees round here, we don’t sell them. We haven’t sold any in about five years so we don’t have any in stock at the moment. They do tend to be more common in rural areas.”
Gardeners and woodland visitors are being advised to be vigilant and report any sightings to the Forestry Commission on 08459 33 55 77.